The Seventh-day Adventist Church is a growing Christian fellowship numbering today about 12 million believers in almost all the countries of the world. How did their story begin?
We are a young old reality. If we consider our present structural organization, we are a very young Christian community conceived, we can say, in 1844 and born in 1863. But if we consider our faith, which is the only reality that justifies our existence, then we believe we can dare to say that our community is the incarnation of the oldest and original Christian experience, that described in the Word of God, from Genesis to Revelation.
light to deep shadow
Despite Jesus command, very soon, the knowledge of the Gospel was lost. People were not taught all that Jesus had commanded. Because of the political situation and the influence of Roman-Greek philosophy and religion, many unbiblical doctrines and customs entered the Christian Church. The union with the political powers corrupted the leadership of the Church, too often more interested in their power and wealth than in caring for the spiritual needs of their sheep.
As seventh-day Adventists we consider ourselves heirs of the Protestant Reformation and we honour all men who worked in all honesty to help people go closer to the will and teaching of God. But not even the Protestant Reformation may be considered the final point of going back to "all that Jesus had commanded." The Reformation had to continue.
In England, one of the most important scholars who studied the prophetic message of the Bible was the well known scientist Sir Isaac Newton (1642 - 1727). In 1767, the Jesuit monk Manuel De Lacunza was forced by the Spanish Government to leave Chile and go to Italy where he wrote a book called "The Coming of the Messiah in Glory and Majesty."
The rediscovery of the Bible prophecies caused some movements to rise. One of them, and most probably the most successful, was that started in the USA by the preaching of William Miller, an honoured man who lived a deep experience of conversion to Christianity and who rediscovered the prophetic message of the Bible while studying the Word of God to nourish his faith and to give answers to the objections of his previous unbelieving friends. Forced by God to share his discoveries, a spontaneous movement rose with the support of preachers of many different Protestant churches. It wasnt a church but a true ecumenical movement of awakening centred on the necessity of being ready to meet the soon coming Lord Jesus.
In a special way, Miller was attracted by the prophecy of Daniel 8:14 where it is said that "For two thousand three hundred days; then the sanctuary shall be cleansed." By applying the long established principle of a day meaning a year, and studying this prophecy in the light of the context of all the book of Daniel and of history, Miller got to the conclusion that the message was pointing to the year 1843-44 of our Christian era. We think that this conclusion may be still supported by many sound reasons. The mistake made by Miller was to the meaning of the prophecy. What in effect is that "cleansing of the sanctuary?" Miller thought that the prophecy had to mean the purification of Gods people and that this would happen at the second coming of Jesus. But he was wrong, and this was the reason why a great disappointment struck the more than 60,000 believers waiting for Jesus coming, when the time expired and nothing seemed to happen. The movement broke down leaving just a few small groups of confused and discouraged people. Miller honestly confessed his mistake, but kept his faith in the Word of God, and humbly waited for Jesus to come till his death five years later.
foundation of the Seventh-day Adventist Church
They needed to understand what happened, and light came to them through prayer, a deeper study of the Bible, and the message of a young lady, Ellen Harmon (White) whom God called to give courage and understanding to that small group of people. The light they received confirmed that their hope was really founded on solid biblical basis, but that the event foretold by the prophecy of Daniel 8:14 was not the coming of Jesus. It was instead the beginning of a process that would prepare the way for Jesus coming.
Their sad experience may be compared to the experience of the first disciples of Jesus. They too were waiting for the kingdom of God. They believed that their friend Jesus, received as the long awaited Messiah, had come just for this. But, instead of seeing Him establishing the Kingdom, they saw Him dying on the cross. At Golgotha all their hope vanished at once, but misunderstanding the times of Jesus mission didnt mean they were wrong about their faith in Jesus and in His promise of the kingdom. They suffered because of their misunderstanding, but when they saw their raised Lord, they understood the true reality of Gods promises and joy entered again their hearts.
The small group of believers that constituted the first root of our Church, saw their experience as the accomplishment of another Biblical prophecy contained in the book of Revelation 10. Here, it is said that toward the end of the time, the people of God, represented by the apostle John, would live an experience of deep joy followed by an experience of deep bitterness. The prophecy says that the message of a little open book offered them by God, would be sweet as honey when received, but would become bitterness after. It was easy for them to see in this open booklet the prophetic message of Daniel that had given them so much joy when received, and bitterness after the disappointment. As a matter of fact, the same book of Daniel says that the prophecy that gave origin to the Millerite movement had to be sealed, that means not to be understood, till the end of time: "And the vision of the evenings and mornings which was told is true; therefore seal up the vision, for it refers to many days in the future." (Daniel 8:26). So, in the last times, that book would no longer be sealed, it would be opened, studied, loved. Revelation shows this book at last opened, with all the joy and bitterness that it caused.
But revelation 10 says much more to the once confused and discouraged believers that lived that experience: they had to be courageous and renew their commitment to God. God would maintain His promise when the time would come, but in the meantime, they had to announce to all the world the prophetic hope of Jesus coming: "and [he] swore by Him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and the things that are in it, the earth and the things that are in it, and the sea and the things that are in it, that there should be delay no longer, but in the days of the sounding of the seventh angel, when he is about to sound, the mystery of God would be finished, as He declared to His servants the prophets. ... And he said to me, You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, tongues, and kings." (Revelation 10:6-7,11).
After 1844, some years passed to reconfirm the faith of the believers and to share the new light they had received. They were not yet a church but a group of believers who freely were trying, in their love for God and His Word, to get a better understanding of Gods will. A lot had to be done. Coming from many different experiences and churches, they were united by the hope of Jesus coming, and for this they could be called "Adventists", which means "believers in the (second) advent of Jesus". But almost for everything else they were different and divided, reflecting the different understanding held in their original Churches. But they knew that God was calling them to unity of love and faith, and so they submitted their beliefs to the Bible and by doing this, little by little, they abandoned their differences to get united in the only truth coming from the Bible. It was this way that they discovered all those Biblical doctrines that form today the substance of our belief and life.
At the beginning they were just "Adventists", but not "Seventh-day Adventists." They were keeping Sunday as most Christians, but when a humble lady, Rachel Preston, coming from another Christian community, that of the Seventh-day Baptists, attracted their attention to the true day of rest and worship commanded in the Scripture, they didnt refuse to consider her testimony. Instead, as they were used, they asked the Bible for light, and started to keep the Sabbath on Saturday. They were open to the testimony of everybody, just asking the Bible for the final judgement.
We gratefully recognise our debt to many other Christian Churches searching the Word of God before us. And we offer to the others what God has helped us to discover in His Word. So that by submitting all of us to the same teaching of the Holy Scripture, we may become just "one flock and one shepherd," as Jesus said (John 10:16).
All this was not done because of a human founder, of a charismatic leader, but through the common search of the Word of God. Nevertheless, as it happens in all human communities, some persons played a special role. We just mention some of them:
James White (1821-1881) was able, in his youth, by studying 18 hours a day, to get, in 12 weeks, a certificate to be a teacher without ever being to school before. After studying other 17 weeks he was told he could be ready for the college in just one year. In 1844 he was just 23, and a year after he married that young lady, Ellen, who was working with him to get order among the first Adventist believers and lead them toward a better understanding and organisation. He worked hard to convince the first Adventists to create an organisation but honestly refused to be their first president when he met with success. He didnt wish to give the impression that he had worked for his own glory.
Ellen G. White (1825-1915) was just 19 when, in 1844, she was called by God to be a witness of His love and leadership. Seventh-day Adventists believe she received a special gift from God, that of prophecy, that enabled her to correct the wrongs existing in our Church, and to give courage and understanding. If among the small groups deriving from the Millerite Movement, the only one that has become a world wide Church with a sound theology, and a well established structure and mission, we have to admit that it is mostly because of the ministry of this lady. Nevertheless she never was the official leader of the Church. She was just a voice, without any power but that of the Holy Spirit working in the hearts and minds of those who got the conviction she had a word to say on the part of God. She was a prolific writer, but she never thought that her writings could be compared to the Bible that remained for her and remains for us the only rule of faith.
Uriah Smith (1832-1903) was too young (only 12 years old) in 1844 and cannot be considered a founder of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, but became an important leader as a writer and editor. He started serving the Church when he was 23 years of age. Very known is his commentary on the book of "Daniel and Revelation". He was not just a good Christian, even if sometimes with a controversial temper, but also a good inventor and as such got some patents among which that of a mechanical leg for disabled people, and a new model of a school desk.
John Nevins Andrews (1829-1883) was just 15 years old in 1844. He became a minister of the Church in 1850, at the age of 21. He is considered to be the most learned among our pioneers. He could read the Bible in seven languages and is said to know all the New Testament by heart. He was the first Seventh-day Adventist official missionary outside the United States and worked as such in Europe were he died in Basel (Switzerland).
Joseph Bates (1792-1872) was the only aged person among the young group of the Seventh-day Adventist pioneers. In 1844 he was 52 and had already lived an adventurous life on the sea, as sailor and sea captain. Retired from the sea with a modest fortune, when he entered the Millerite Movement he dedicated all his life and means to share the good news of Jesus coming. He was the one who worked more to introduce the doctrine of the Sabbath into the Seventh-day Adventist Church. His sensitivity for human and social problems made him a promoter of a health reform outside and within the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Not having just one founder, and educated to look in the Bible for understanding, these people helped the Seventh-day Adventist Church to be a democratic church, where nobody has a personal power, but where all work in unity because of their love for God and their submission to His will.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church does not pretend to be a perfect community, nor do we pretend to have any special privilege in front of God. We believe that God loves all humanity, and that everybody will be judged not according to the Church of which they are members, but according to their wish to look for what is good in the light of Gods grace and law. Our mission is not to judge the faith or the experience of the others, but to give a testimony of what God has given us. We invite others to live that same experience God has led us to live. It is an experience that honours what God has given His people in the past, but that looks also for more on the part of our Father. He has many more gifts for His children than we suppose, and wishes to create a people who may be ready to meet with joy Jesus, their friend, lord, and redeemer when He comes.
being a small group of confused believers in 1844, the Seventh-day Adventist
Church is now a world-wide growing Church. Every day about two thousand
new members enter this Church in all the countries of the world, sharing
her faith and mission. We are grateful to God for His help and blessing,
and we still pray to Him, that He may continue to bless us and, through
our testimony and service, many others more.